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Syria

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

    Syria

    (Map 6:G4). Syria is a geographical area bounded by the Euphrates River on the east, Palestine on the south, and the Mediterranean Sea on the west. It has been assumed that the name Syria derived from Tyre, which was the port of entry for Romans, Greeks, and others who explored or expanded eastward. Syria's major centers were Damascus, Antioch on the Orontes, and the region of the two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates.

    In the Hebrew Bible, David extends his kingdom up to Damascus in Syria (2 Sam. 8.6; 1 Chron. 18.6). Syria, generally called Aram, is clearly a foreign country, but close enough to go in and out of, know quite a lot about, and seriously compete with, both religiously and economically. Syrian gods are criticized (Judg. 10.6; Isa. 7.1), and there are wars with numerous Syrian kings and cities.

    The region was captured by Tiglath‐pileser III in the eighth century BCE, conquered by Alexander the Great, and later became a center for the Seleucid dynasty that ultimately provoked the Maccabean revolt in Palestine in 165 BCE. Roman writers could frequently lump Palestine and Syria together without distinction under the name Coele‐Syria. Pompey and leaders after him, including Herod the Great, used Damascus as a center for military and bureaucratic expansion. It was from Damascus that Pompey launched his pacification of Palestine in 66 BCE in the wake of the Hasmonean civil war. Both cities were among the leading cultural, religious, and economic centers of the entire Roman empire.

    Syria is rarely mentioned by name in the New Testament. On several occasions, Syria is referred to as proof that Jesus' fame is spreading (e.g., Matt. 4.24); in Acts, Syria is mentioned in the context of the spread of Christianity.

    There were numerous and sizable Jewish communities in Syria. The Jews of Antioch are singled out by Josephus as a vibrant community who were constantly attracting gentiles to their religious ceremonies (War 7.3.43–45). In the fourth century CE, the sermons delivered by John Chrysostom against the Jews make it clear that the Jewish community in Antioch was still large, popular, and a threat to Christians like Chrysostom.

    Similarly Syria and its larger cities became centers for early Christianity. The early second‐century writer Ignatius of Antioch emerged as an important figure in the early church, as did Chrysostom, and many early Christian texts, including some of the Gospels, have been associated with Syria.

    Syria in history and today remains an intriguing if enigmatic country and culture, which represents and joins city and village, east and west, Jew, Christian, and Muslim. It has played a pivotal role in the development and definition of Jewish and Christian belief and identity.

    J. Andrew Overman

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    Oxford University Press

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